Rep. Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand

Lefty-catholics and Fishwrap readers are having a spittle-flecked nutty over Rep. Paul Ryan.  Fishwrap today compared Ryan to Dr. Kevorkian.

You will no doubt be hearing from some of them that Ryan is a “Randian” and “Objectivist”, that is, an adherent to some of the ideas of Ayn Rand.  That would be a lie, of course, though that won’t bother catholic supporters of The First Gay President as they trample each other to slash at Ryan as a candidate and as a person.

Last April Leroy Huizenga had a good piece which clarified Ryan on Rand.

Read this, file it away, and use it when necessary.

Thursday, April 26, 2012, 9:08 AM

It’s a common misconception on the left and on the right that Congressman Paul Ryan, architect of the GOP’s de facto budget and entry on every pundit’s vice-presidential short list, is a devotee of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of “objectivism.”

Were this true, it would be deeply unsettling, given that Rand’s philosophy (such as it is) is desperately wicked. As Whittaker Chambers wrote in National Review in 1957, “From almost any page of [Rand’s novel] Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber — go!’” Rand’s ultimate hatred of the human race should have no place in the governance of the nation.

But it’s not true that Ryan follows Rand. National Review Online reports on a conversation with Rep. Paul Ryan, in which he disowns her (having never really owned her) and speaks of his devotion to Thomas Aquinas:

“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

The whole piece is worth reading. It’s good to know that regardless of whether one approves of Rep. Ryan’s budget or politics, there are yet a few in Washington trying to wrestle with the issues of the day appropriating substantive philosophies.

Also, check out Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s piece about Ryan HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Bev says:

    You suggest that only liberals are making Paul Ryan out to be a disciple of Ayn Rand. [That isn’t, however, what I wrote.] You should see what Alan Keyes is publishing on his website concerning the subject.

  2. wmeyer says:

    Rand’s atheism stands apart from her observations on politics and economy. Likewise her morals in her personal life, of which I prefer not to speak.

    To dismiss all that Rand wrote, simply because of her lack of faith, and her personal life is to dispense with logic and reason. The woman had a very clear grasp of the issues which most affect liberty and economics, and that the two are inseparable.

  3. Dismas says:

    I suppose we should just be grateful that Paul Ryan hasn’t made any Harry Potter references, that would make him a wicked sorcerer as well as an atheist. Calling Ryan an atheist or objectivist because he read or made reference to an Ayn Rand novel is the epitome of ridiculous.

  4. MarylandBill says:

    When one considers the fact that Rand attempted to synthesize this into a coherent philosophical ideal, I am not sure one can completely disregard her concept of personal morality from her position regarding liberty and economics.

    I am hardly an expert on Rand, but my general impression was that her notion of liberty comes closer to the definition license than what a Christian would recognize. She also seemed to have contempt for the Christian concept of having moral obligations to others. Now between the two, I suppose license is better than tyranny, but neither is a desirable state.

    I guess the question is, would a Randian notion of economics accept any government regulation or business (other than say contract law) or is it dedicated to pure laissez faire capitalism which is in its own way just as utopian as many socialist economic theories.

    [So, tell us… is it fair to say that Paul Ryan’s economic plans, ideas, proposals, etc., are based on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism? That is what some claim and THAT is the topic here.]

  5. Henry Belton says:

    Inasmuch as Ayn Rand is not consistent with Catholic social thought, neither is John Maynard Keynes, Paul Krugman or Barak Obama. Belloc and Leo XIII certainly would not favor a massive government bailout of an industry just like they would not favor the modern typical massive individual corporation.

    I suppose that, economically speaking anyway, the politician most consistent with Catholic teaching is the one who encourages both small government and small/local businesses. Socialism, corporate welfare, regulations reducing competition of small firms (like licensing restrictions on caskets!), are all policies which are in opposition Catholic teaching. We are millions of miles a way from a Belloc type economy but it’s worth a discussion. Neither the leftists nor the pure capitalists are clean if they claim to align with Catholicism.

  6. Dennis Martin says:

    Not just lefties but the “pox on both your houses” Catholics who consider themselves above the fray, who consider those Catholics who make tough choices about whom to support and who get their hands dirty doing grass roots political work a political party to be choosing “the lesser of two evils,” which as these wise “pox on both your houses” non-joiners delight in instructing us benighted ones, is not a choice a faithful Catholic may make.

    In the case of Ryan, they are dismissing his disavowal of Rand as lacking in sincere repentance for his (Ryan’s) error in embracing Rand. It is true that it lacks repentance. Mainly because he has nothing to repent of if he never in fact embraced Rand’s philosophy, which is what he plainly says was the case.

    That Ryan just might never have EMBRACED Rand’s philosophy does not seem to have occurred to these folks. They take that as a given, as a fact, because it has been lobbed out there as a claim. Moreover, that he read Rand’s NOVELS means to them that he has to have embraced her philosophy, therefore, he now needs to make an abject contrite renunciation of Rand.

    That one might read novels without embracing the epistemology of the author of the novels is a possiblity so far unentertained by those who deign to instruct us in the Catholic credentials of all and sundry.

    For myself, I take Ryan’s explanation at face value: he enjoyed her novels but never embraced her philosophy. He knows Aquinas on epistemology and rejects Rand’s objectivism. ‘Nuff said, it would seem to me.

  7. mamajen says:


    I agree wholeheartedly. It seems some people think one can’t read and appreciate some of her ideas without being a full-fledged disciple. Likewise, the people who have looked to a book author for a framework on which to build their lives are ridiculous. Her political and economic observations were brilliant, and it’s eerie how much of Atlas Shrugged (for example) is evident in today’s society (well, minus the heroism). I also think that working hard and striving for our personal best is something that every person should aspire to, and something that would please God (even if she didn’t believe in Him). I don’t know why having read a work of fiction would automatically make someone an “ian”, an “ite” or an “ist”, but then again the left often grasps at straws.

  8. Joshua08 says:

    Not a lie. Paul Ryan is or at least was an avid fan of Ayn Rand. Before accusing people of lying, perhaps we should look at the evidence like

    Or his giving his interns that book. Or his statement that “Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did a fantastic job explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism, and that, to me, is what matters most”

    Not to mention that that very individualism she espouses, even her economic views, are antithetical to Thomas, antithetical to the Church. Selfishness is not a virtue. Sorry. And Any Rand’s economic vision condemned as evil by the Church. Oh, and Rand explicitly denies the common good.

    The very foundation of her social and economic view is founded on her antropology, which is false. And the denial of the common good, the reduction of the good to the private good is not a minor error. It is “pernicious in the extreme” as De Koninck put it. It is the very error of Satan according to Augustine and John of St. Thomas.

    I believe that he does not hold all the vile that vicious woman advocated. I do know he had advocated many of her ideas. I do know he stands against St. Thomas’ political philosophy. And I do know the very principles of individualism in Rand and those other thing which are inextricable from her views are perverse and evil. He is at best completely unaware of the violent opposition between those Randian views the he had explicitly espouse not too long ago. See that is the things about truth and principles. You cannot just pick and choose.

  9. frjim4321 says:

    Rand’s atheism stands apart from her observations on politics and economy. Likewise her morals in her personal life, of which I prefer not to speak.

    I don’t necessarily agree. “By their fruit you will know them.”

    It is true that in recent years Ryan has been backing away from Rand. But really it does not matter. He has written and said enough on his own that Obama supporters don’t have to bring up Rand.

    Privatizing Medicare and Social Security is troubling enough, not to mention his budget priorities.

  10. Dennis Martin says:


    I would not accuse you of lying. But I will say you are prooftexting. As Ryan himself points out, he accepts some of Ayn Rand’s economic principles but explicitly rejects her objectivist and atheist philosophy. Could it be that he gave his staffers her book to read for the former but not the latter?

    Ryan makes distinctiones, sorta like Aquinas did. Aquinas embraced various aspects of Aristotle without embracing Aristotle’s views on the eternity of the world.

    I’m tired of gotcha Catholicity even if it is presented in good faith and sincerity. It’s msiguided, though sincere.

  11. wmeyer says:

    frjim4321: “Privatizing Medicare and Social Security is troubling enough, not to mention his budget priorities.”

    So you prefer to pretend these programs can be sustained?

  12. Dennis Martin says:

    Father Jim,

    You don’t have to agree with Paul Ryan about Ayn Rand’s economics standing apart from her atheism and objectivism. You are free to believe that they are all inseparable. You are free to believe that Ryan errs in distinguishing.

    But that he makes the distinction shows that he DOES NOT embrace her atheism and objectivism.

    You may believe that Ryan doesn’t know how confused he is. That contrary to his explicit testimony, he actually does embrace her atheism.

    You are entitled to that belief. In my view, however, to say to someone, “I know you make this distinction but I believe that such a distinction cannot be made, therefore I insist that you do not make the distinction in reality, only in your confused mind” is to impose one’ own mind over the other person’s mind.

    Which lacks respect for the integrity of the other person’s mind.

  13. wmeyer says:

    mamajen, I remember when I first read Atlas Shrugged, that it seemed rather melodramatic. That was less then 20 years ago. I re-read it every 18 months or so, until about 3-4 years ago, and on each reading, was surprised how much our reality had moved toward her worst fears.

    The people who are so quick to condemn Rand for her economic views having been condemned by the Church are equally quick to overlook that progressivism with its unquenchable appetite for taxation leads inexorably to tyranny, and ultimately, totalitarianism. Also condemned.

    Capitalism is the only framework within which we can be sufficiently unfettered by government to fulfill our obligation to charity as it was given: on the personal level. I find nowhere in scripture any declaration that we are to be robbed by our “betters” to the benefit of those who they deem worthy of alms.

  14. Dennis Martin says:


    In his Georgetown speech in April of this year, Ryan makes clear that he understands both the communal and the individual aspects of Catholic social teaching, that he embraces subsidiarity and responsibility for the common good.

    I am just plain tired of Catholics who see the word “individualist” and decide that it can only mean an anti-Catholic kind of irreducible individualism.

    Whatever Ryan may have said in the past, his present programs are compatible with Centesimus Annus. I have had it up to here with Catholics who want to embrace the common good aspects of Catholic social teaching but ignore what Leo XIII-John Paul II said about private property, individual freedom and responsibility.

    Dispute Ryan’s policy proposals as you wish, but do it on specifics. Stop throwing the word “individualism” around as necessarily antithetical to Catholic social teaching.

    Read the Longenecker article, please.

  15. mamajen says:


    I read Atlas Shrugged a few months ago, and had read The Fountainhead before that (I have an architecture degree, so I got a kick out of her spot-on observations of the field). In a way it was comforting to know that many of the issues we face today were problems back then as well–so many people like to look at the past with rose-colored glasses and make it seem as though everything is just hopeless now.

    I am also an avid Douglas Adams fan, so I guess that makes me a closet atheist and unfit for public office, unless I run as a Democrat.

    Capitalism is the only framework within which we can be sufficiently unfettered by government to fulfill our obligation to charity as it was given: on the personal level. I find nowhere in scripture any declaration that we are to be robbed by our “betters” to the benefit of those who they deem worthy of alms.

    AMEN! I do not think the welfare state we have now is anything near what God intended. People are learning entitlement, laziness and, yes, selfishness. If that’s not contrary to Church teaching, I don’t know what is.

  16. mamajen says:

    @Dennis Martin

    AMEN! to you, too.

  17. wmeyer says:

    mamajen: I’m guilty, too, of the Douglas Adams disease. ;)

    Yet oddly, and though I enjoy Rand, Adams, and others likely to be condemned by some, I remain committed to my faith as Holy Mother Church intends, not as given by local priests, or even bishops. As was pointed out to me recently be a very good local priest, the laity played a very large role in the battle against Arianism, and had to, as so many bishops were on the wrong side of that.

    Consider those bishops–and we needn’t list them–for whom the uber-flexible phrase “social justice” becomes the override on all sorts of actual doctrine. The lay faithful must educate themselves, and test what they are told (from whatever source) against the written teachings of the Church. To fail to do so is to risk following heretical teachings.

  18. Charles E Flynn says:

    Is Paul Ryan for or against Ayn Rand?, by Gary Weiss for CNN, already has nearly eight kilocomments.

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    Charles E. Flynn wrote:

    “Is Paul Ryan for or against Ayn Rand?, by Gary Weiss for CNN, already has nearly eight kilocomments.”

    I love it! A new unit I can use for teaching metric conversions. I can see it, now, “Class, how many microcomments are in 8 kilocomments?”

  20. John V says:

    Yeah, but dontcha see the connection? RYAN is an anagram of AYN R! How much more proof do you need?
    /sarcasm (can’t believe I felt compelled to put that in there because if I didn’t somebody might think I was serious)

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    And Romney is an anagram for MONEY R. The Rs are in league, I tell ya!

  22. robtbrown says:

    Dennis Martin says:

    Ryan makes distinctiones, sorta like Aquinas did. Aquinas embraced various aspects of Aristotle without embracing Aristotle’s views on the eternity of the world.

    It’s a bit more subtle than that. St Thomas says that it cannot be demonstrated from reason that the creation necessarily has not existed ab aeterno–we cannot know by reason alone that there was a moment before which there was nothing. God’s priority is ontological and not necessarily one of duration.

    I always made a point of telling my students that the Quinque Viae (5 ways of knowing by reason alone that God exists) do not depend on the creation having had a beginning in time.

  23. Charles E Flynn says:

    I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that it is highly probable that Dennis Martin’s students are capable of making comments significantly better than the ones on (assumes the students are paying attention in class, rather than playing with their thumbs while staring at tiny glowing screens).

  24. Kenneth Hall says:

    I read Atlas Shrugged in the spring of 2009, and thought it had some prescient observations and insights applicable to current events. (But then, so too has Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War: frankly, that’s a far more chilling realization, or should be.

    Ayn Rand had interesting things to say, but thinking that doesn’t make me an Objectivist. I hold much the same view of (and greater admiration for) Heinlein, who is worth mentioning in this context. If one has read Job: A Comedy of Justice, one can find parallels between John Galt’s radio speech in Atlas Shrugged and Jerry Farnsworth’s/Satan’s soliloquy in Job. Both make interesting arguments, and both (I believe) are wrong, but the larger works (and the authors) should not be rejected entire for the errors they contain.

    Now that’s out of the way, I read the NRO piece, and ran across the following gem:

    Father Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest at Georgetown, told the Huffington Post that Ryan’s views do not reflect the tenets of their shared faith. “I am afraid that Chairman Ryan’s budget reflects the values of his favorite philosopher Ayn Rand rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Survival of the fittest may be okay for Social Darwinists but not for followers of the gospel of compassion and love.”

    Wow. Just…wow. There’s a hat trick of fail in there, but I’m not sure where to start. In the end, I simply shrug and quote Wolfgang Pauli: “It’s not even wrong.”

  25. heway says:

    Ryan was on Fox with Brit Hume today and addressed the isue of Ayn Rand.. He disagrees philosphically.
    Sorry Fr. Jim, but you and Father Reese apparently have no children and are not concerned about the future. I am a member of that famous generation…we can sacrifice willingly for the future of our country and our families. I am more concerned about personal responsibility, a value that is fast disappearing from society.

  26. SonofMonica says:

    Am I supposed to be more upset about Ryan’s admiration of some of the concepts espoused by Ayn Rand than I am about Obama’s attempted wholesale implementation of the concepts espoused by Jeremiah Wright, Carl Marx, and Margaret Sanger? Someone wake me when crazy season is over.

  27. wmeyer says:

    Kenneth Hall: I was also thinking of Heinlein when I wrote my last comment here. He believed much which I consider wrong, but had much to say which is worth considering, in spite of his errors. Not least of these his not so well known Take Back Your Government (available for Kindle).

    Rand’s personal life was a scandal. She fell short of living her beliefs. But are we not all sinners? Do we not all fall short? Are we, then, to be condemned out of hand, our good works cast aside because of our bad?

  28. josephx23 says:

    Rep. Ryan can read trashy novels on his own time, but I am more concerned about the opposition voiced by our bishops to his proposed budget. Fr. Longenecker’s article reflects at length on Catholic social teaching in a very general way, but its connection to Rep. Ryan is loose, it seems to me. The hyperlink to a purported reconciliation of his budget proposals with the Church’s social teaching appears to be broken.

  29. Bryan Boyle says:

    wmeyer: So…do you know where your towel is?

  30. Supertradmum says:

    Thanks so much for this. I am reading the entire article. Some nutcase in my comments on my blog has been harassing me with this since I came out in support of Ryan. I can put up something now, with your link. The lefties are trying their hardest to discredit an excellent man. By the way, I have been accused of being a Randist, which is so totally out of it that such a claim is laughable. Good grief, what some people must resort to instead of rational arguments.

  31. jhayes says:

    The Atlas Society, which promotes Rand’s views, responded to the recent articles by publishing an audio file and a transcript of a speech which Paul Ryan gave to the Society in 2005. Here are some of their excerpts from the transcript. The time markers relate to the audio file on the linked page

    :(2:01) I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.

    (2:23) But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.

    (2:38) In almost every fight we are involved in here, on Capitol Hill, whether it’s an amendment vote that I’ll take later on this afternoon, or a big piece of policy we’re putting through our Ways and Means Committee, it is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict: individualism vs. collectivism.

    (2:54) And so when you take a look at where we are today, ah, some would say we’re on offense, some would say we’re on defense, I’d say it’s a little bit of both. And when you look at the twentieth-century experiment with collectivism—that Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism—you can’t find another thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand.

    (3: 21) It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are. I always go back to, you know, Francisco d’Anconia’s speech (at Bill Taggart’s wedding) on money when I think about monetary policy. And then I go to the 64-page John Galt speech, you know, on the radio at the end, and go back to a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure that I can check my premises so that I know that what I’m believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism…

  32. mamajen says:


    And not once did he endorse atheism or her “objectivism”…so I don’t think his statement that he rejects “her philosophy” is contradictory or untruthful–he was most likely speaking of objectivism. The political and economic views expressed in her books are not unique to her philosophy, and can stand apart from it.

    I don’t think that individualism is contrary to Church teaching at all. As Catholics we cannot live solely for ourselves, but as individuals with free will we are solely responsible for our own actions and for the state of our souls. And let’s face it, when most of us do good works, why do we do them? To get ourselves to heaven. I would say that it’s very rare for someone to do good without an ounce of “selfishness” involved. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–if we help others and help ourselves get to heaven, it’s a win-win. If we pretend to help others in order to win recognition and stature here on earth (one of the things Rand loathed, and what the left specializes in), that’s utterly repugnant.

    We are not like Protestant churches in which just being a member is enough to “save” us. Collectivism is dangerous for all Catholics because it eliminates personal responsibility, and it also eats away at real generosity and sacrifice. Many of the people with their hands out for other people’s money have no business asking for it, and building bloated social programs that encourage such behavior is encouraging sin. “Giving” because one is expected to (or worse, required by law) is not generous.

    If Rand’s political and economic views are inseparable from her atheism and objectivism, then why aren’t the left’s “good” social programs inseparable from their killing of the innocent unborn?

  33. John V says:

    Masked Chicken
    Just like Batman, I knew if I sent up a signal a superhero would appear.

  34. robtbrown says:

    1. I recoil every time I hear Medicare linked with Social Security. SS will be fairly easy to fix, either by increasing the eligibility age or by increasing the income subject to FICA tax.

    2. Medicare, however, is another matter because its problem is not merely demographic. It is also an increasing reliance on the use of the rapidly increasing warehouse of medical resources (cf technology). This is a problem that can only be remedied by a) limiting their use (e.g., denial of care), or b) a fundamental change in the practice of medicine by which the treatment of diseases by expensive surgical procedures and hospitalization would be replaced by drugs developed via DNA technology (we are presently at the beginning of a pharmaceutical revolution).

    The problems of rising health care costs are also found in Euro national health systems.

    3. The concept of the Common Good doesn’t merely apply to a highly centralized govt. It refers to community, e.g., parish, union, extended family, American Legion, K of C, CYO, town, etc. IMHO, it is socially deleterious tendency to suppress the influence of all these mediating institutions between the indiv and the fed govt.

    4. There is a natural right to private property, but it is not an absolute right.

  35. JonPatrick says:

    I second what robtbrown says about Medicare. The Democrats have cleverly avoided saying how they will fix the entitlement programs other than throwing out vague comments about taxing the rich, which anyone capable of 3rd grade math can figure out will not resolve it even if they taxed the rich at 100%.

    josephx23: the fact that some bishops came out against Ryan might count as an endorsement for him in my mind. No doubt these are the same ones that advocated Obamacare and now have to deal with the HHS mandate.

  36. disputationist says:

    Dear Fr. Z,
    You should examine the evidence before denouncing the Ryan-Rand association as a “lie” solely based on his current claim that he has nothing to do with Rand. Looking at what he has said before, it seems that it might be Ryan who was lying when he claimed Rand has no influence on his values and beliefs:

    “I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are,” Rand told The Atlas Society in 2005

    “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

    He also used Rand’s dualistic language of “makers” and “takers” at a Heritage Foundation speech.

    In the face of such statements, Ryan’s claims that Rand was not a big influence on him are ridiculous. Perhaps if he had claimed that he used to be influenced by her, but has now rejected it for Thomism, it might be plausible.

    I’m calling you out Father, lets see if you can be objective about this.

  37. dans0622 says:

    @Disputationist: what you say Fr. Z (the Ryan-Rand association is “a lie”) and Ryan (“nothing to do with Rand”, “no influence”) have said is not accurate. That is the objective truth.

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